Sunday, November 15, 2015

Hara/Tanden Training.

Early morning training is not as intense today, but definitely allows for some deeper reflection on certain aspects.
It is not about doing as much as can be done in the amount of time you have given yourself to do it, but to do what you can with a certain quality and attention to detail, no matter how small, and not even as many times as you can do a specific thing, but focusing on those select things across the board.

Practiced some Sanchin after doing some Taiso Daruma and focused on bringing alignment from the ground up rather than focusing tension to the ground, as seems to be the case when many approach the practice of Sanchin.
This focus should be evident in the way the center moves, Hara/Tanden/Dan Tien is not static, it does not remain on a plain except with those movements that require it to do so.

Sanchin Kata appears, on the surface, to be the simplest of Karate Kata, but when punching, when stepping, how is your center moving? How is your body aligning? In which directions? How is Muchimi working into things? Chinkuchi?
Taking this a step further, when you kick, how are the mechanics working? Are you just swinging your hips and throwing your kick out there with the only real attention being placed on making sure the toes are curled back and you are kicking with the ball of your foot?
How about focusing it more as a step and focusing more on aligning from, and driving from, that anchored/posted leg? THIS principle alone changes the whole game, especially when you place your focus through the movement of the Hara/Tanden (Part of Gamaku principle).

What about Mawashi Uke/Tora Guchi? This involves the hands moving in opposite directions and the same time, while also moving in the same direction at the same time.
A lot of Karateka simple go through the motions on this one and do not pay attention to the actual principles NOR their Hara/Tanden as they seem to be preoccupied with the final placement of the hands/arms themselves and not the whole body necessarily (which is okay because that is part of the learning process, but you have to move to the next level at some point).
When moving in this do you draw in and down? Do you move your Hara/Tanden up and back as you draw in and circle? Do you move through your Hara/Tanden simultaneously out and down/out and up as you push out (one hand moving towards the ground, the other out and up towards the sky)? Is the movement originating more in your midsection or is it originating from the ground and moving THROUGH your Hara/Tanden?

My Sensei once came to Spokane and taught me Kata Shisochin, this was more than a few years ago, and he said to pretend you did not have an arm, to pretend your fists were attached directly to your Hara/Tanden and to punch from there with your whole body.
I would take this further and say to pretend the whole Earth is your root and your Hara/Tanden is the conduit to which your fists,feet,spine, and head are attached as alignment points/appendages.
It is very hard to put into words, but those who know will know and strive to apply these and may even be able to convey them with better words than I can.

I was once watching a program called 'Aikido-The Real Truth' where an experienced Champion Fighter in Kyokushin Karate basically scoffed at the art of Aikido as new-age mumbo-jumbo and went so far as to say it would not work on him.
He sent his two most senior Students to an experienced Aikidoka to test it out and when they came back saying they had basically gotten their asses kicked he had to go and experience this for himself.
His experience was no different from theirs and he could not believe it himself... When he brought in some scientists to basically capture the movements of the Aikido Sensei on stop-motion it showed that he moved with his center VERY efficiently and NOT JUST on a single plain, but utilized full range of motion whereas the Karateka did not, it was all very flat, the center only moved forwards and back and the body rotated around it in a very rigid manner.

I am also an Aikidoka, for a very long time I have studied that art and worked to understand those principles and how they worked.
My Aikido Sensei is not the conventional Aikido Sensei; we would go out into the woods and train, one day we spent thirteen hours on a single movement, a single throw/projection, in the woods, taking falls on sticks and rocks, focusing on the footwork, focusing on alignment, focusing on the center, focusing on movement through the center.
These are not just meant to be confined to one art, Aikido is more than an art, it is a set of principles and these should be understood in order to see how they apply to each person.

Some food for thought.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Alignment and Tactical Principles - Effective One Inch Punch.

There is some speculation regarding the 'One Inch Punch' that was made famous by Bruce Lee in a demonstration at a tournament.
There is quite a lot of mysticism surrounding much of the arts and, unfortunately, that may be because of the language barrier, someone does not know how to explain something, or someone simply does not know how to do something properly.

There is a difference between hitting and hitting hard, the difference lay in mechanics. Tyson is not just a hard hitter, he maintains perfect alignment in each punch in order to hit effectively and, thus, really really friggin' hard.
In Okinawan systems we call this Atifa or alignment and the final transference happens at the end with a quick tension which, in Okinawan systems, is called Chinkuchi.
Another part of this is focused in, not just the hips, but the entire core, which can be termed Gamaku, although Gamaku refers primarily to the hips, or Koshi/Tanden.

The head must be up, chin tucked, spine straight and aligned with the legs, through the feet, into the ground, the solar plexus must be closed, hips tilted slighter forward/upward.
Power is generated from the ground up into the opponent and punches are supposed to generate hydro-static shock that plays on the fact that the Human Body is primarily made of water, thus a punch is not just a push, it has a purpose, it has an exact function.
Some refer to this as Fa Jing, but to many that term has quite a bit of mysticism surrounding it, basically all it means is hydrostatic shock off of techniques that are meant to work in such a way... A different type of Jing applies to smashing techniques, like elbow strikes.

Once a person peels away all the fluff of techniques names and starts looking at the bigger picture from the perspective of 'Principles' then they no longer see a whole slew of hundreds of different techniques, but variations on things like 'Hydrostatic Shock' and 'Smashing' and 'Pushing' and 'Pulling,' ect.
From there they can see the various ways in which to align for effective power generation.

Sensei once talked about the old saying that 'a punch is just a punch until it is no longer a punch and then it is a punch again,' it rings true, but in a different way than expected.
This is why we spend hours upon hours doing Sanchin and applying the principles learned from Sanchin to the rest of our Kata, at least in Goju Ryu.

Seeing Through Makkyo.

When a person enters the Dojo they usually do so with something in mind, some preconceived notion shaped by outer stimuli such as movies, cartoons, television shows, even books and games.
The public has this idea that because someone has a 'black belt' they are somehow a phenom fighter and also have some mystical wisdom and calm they are expected to wear about them at all times.

Sensei used to tell me to leave my preconceived notions at the door and that it was his job to shatter those notions along with the person that had brought them - to make the person go away.
It was a constant test of worthiness where you were given part of the puzzle and expected to present the rest thus jamming your foot in the proverbial door before the Teacher could close it in your face and laugh at you from the other side.

So we carry these notions with us when we come to training and carry some idea of ourselves with us when we go about our day.
What sort of notions we carry with us are to be considered as Makkyo, illusory, without substance, just a mirage, an image in the clouds, a distraction without purpose causing us to forget the real purpose of what we are doing, whether it be training or something else.

Collecting Techniques is a form of Makkyo, just as attaching importance to one 'style' or 'school' or 'lineage' as opposed to another, distracting from the true underlying essence... The practice itself.
Most come to training thinking it will, in some way, make them a badass, that they will learn a bazillion techniques and be able to flip someone and kill them with their pinkey finger.
What is the point of that? If such a thing were actually possible, what would be the point of that? Power? Ego?
The fact is that hurting is easy and a person really only needs about five 'techniques' in order to be very effective at it (in point of fact there are only variations on maybe five or six principle movements in the Martial Arts).
The hard part is in taking practice a little deeper and making yourself a little better as a person at the end of the day, for the sake of helping people.

Even then, maybe that is nothing more than another notion that could use some breaking down as it can also serve as a distraction.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Force Fed Citizen Patrols.

A few years ago I attended a seminar with some of the greatest Martial Arts and Self Defense Instructors in the world, including Rory Miller, Marc MacYoung, Al Peasland and Iain Abernethy, called Crossing the Pond Martial XPO, put on by Kris Wilder Sensei and West Seattle Karate.
Marc MacYoung can be found on an Episode of Pen and Teller's 'Bullshit' where they covered Martial Arts, a great Episode and some great insights into the fact that most of the ideas and notions we get from our training are, just that, pure Bullshit.
Rory Miller is an expert on Violence in a way that most cannot even fathom and he often echoes this sentiment when he talks about the stories we tell ourselves, stories that are often shattered in the aftermath of real Violence and the fact that most people do not have to put their stories to the test by facing said Violence, but when they do it can be devastating.

There are many other experts in the world that one can look up and gain some sort of second hand insight if one seeks to prepare oneself.
Most simply ignore the ugly truth of Violence, they fail to see exactly where their training is lacking and the fact that all training is, ultimately, flawed... Why? Because it can never be anything more than training, with safeties to guarantee no one is injured.
Experience is not training and training does not yield much in the way of experience and a person needs to understand and acknowledge this difference if their training to be of any benefit at all.

There is a group of people that volunteer to perform patrols late at night throughout the city, commendable and admirable, I agree with it to a certain extent, but certainly have my concerns, especially when I found out one such group (on their first patrol ever) sought to interrupt some suspicious activity right across the street from my bedroom window.
Did they know what was going on? Did they have inside information and foreknowledge as to whether or not these people had guns or any type of weapon for that matter? NO!!!
Are any of these people trained Police? Do they have Police Tactics training? The 'Commander' of this particular Patrol is a young guy who teaches Wing Chun farther up the road, but that is hardly Police training and hardly qualifies anyone to initiate such actions.
I may be reading into this, maybe they did not initiate anything, maybe they just sat and watched, but I was informed these groups do not just sit and watch, and they do not run... THAT is scary.

My concerns are that my young daughter sleeps in that room and, while thick, the walls of these apartments, and many apartments and houses for that matter, are not solid, they do not stop stray bullets, and some guy who is overt, does not just sit and watch, and does not run, comes up on some drug dealer in the late night or wee hours of the morning, seems a bit sketchy.
The fact that this group is lead by a guy who seems to think he is trained for this sort of thing because of his Martial Arts background and whatever else he may have is not comforting in the least and may actually do more harm than good if the guy sees something and does not back down, with a lack of experience, getting himself and other people hurt or killed in the process.

I have been in situations where I have had to stand my ground because other people have counted on me and the aftermath was never pretty, never anything to brag about, I almost quit training because I wanted NOTHING to do with violence or the promotion of violence... I still do not think it is wise to play with fire if you have never been burned, and even then, you gain a quick respect for the flame.
What is even more frightening is that, when inquiring as to this person's experience with such things, I was told, basically, that it was none of my business and, by others, to shut my mouth regarding my concerns... And these people are patrolling the area without consent of the area itself.

When asked to respect the area and the people that live here by giving for-warning and seeking out some contact within the area itself, my reason being that having more witnesses is better and having backup that lives in the area is best, I was basically told this did not have to be respected.
I am pretty sure one of them drives a huge truck and made a point to park by the Park and rev their engine in order to make a point, sitting there for a few minutes before driving off, but that could just be me.
One of them has reached out and seems to be pretty respectful, but there seems to be a bit of animosity of some sort among others with the concerns I have raised.
At one point I had even asked to just leave the neighborhood watch up to those that lived in the neighborhood, but was told they did not have to do this either, so basically there is no choice in the matter for the people here.

I would love to get involved with neighborhood and community safety on a wider scale, but this is ridiculous, and what is more they had been operating under the assumption that Washington is a Stand Your Ground State, which it is not, it is a Castle Law and Necessary Force State.
Some of these people did not even know what that meant and thought they could just go out and get involved in Crime Stopping Violence if need be, without consequences.

I was invited out on a Patrol tonight, but had to decline because the Fiance is not feeling well and we have our small daughter, plus I do not know these people yet.
This is why, if you are teaching a Martial Art or Self Defense of ANY KIND, it is a good idea to include more than just physical techniques. 
The Wing Chun Instructor in question is also now offering discounts to all members of this Citizen Patrol Volunteer Program and is passing it off as 'Self Defense' like most, more of a commercial opportunity in that regard and, perhaps, well-meaning, but more commercial.

I guess what bothered me the most is A) if someone is patrolling the area where my family lives I would like to know who that person is and B) if that person is properly trained, not Kung Fu trained, I need to know they are not going to do something extremely stupid.
They need to know the difference between training and reality and they need to respect the area in which they are operating so that the area (ie, its' people) can respect them and back them up, otherwise it is not going to work.
They also need to have some set boundaries and procedures, they cannot just say 'We don't run' because that qualifies as doing something extremely stupid. 

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Mind, Body, Spirit, Rhythm.

Many discuss and teach techniques and get down on this person or that person for not doing a technique 'as the founder taught' when, in fact, the founder may have taught them in that way because that is the way they needed to be taught in order to learn it for themselves.
In the end it is more about mechanics that absolutes, and most times the mechanics themselves have become flawed due to laziness, human error, ect.

I remember learning the fine points of Kata from my Sensei, spending an entire class on a single movement just to get everything correct, right down to the timing and rhythm within the movement itself.
If it were only about learning a technique in a textbook of techniques then this would not be necessary, only learning the mechanics would matter, so even the idea of it being about mechanics is not entirely true.
I would go through and feel as though it were correct only to have to go through the sequence again, 'No,' he would say, 'like this!'
There is a reason for everything.

It is not about learning a bazillion techniques to counter a bazillion attacks, which is impossible, more about learning what lay beneath... Physically, mentally, emotionally, and rhythmically.
It is more about the idea, the concept, than some concrete thing.
Certainly one can escape from a headlock in a hundred different ways, but there is one way that works extremely well for you, why bother with the rest?? Maybe two more, just for variation on the one, but it still goes back to that one.
In Kata there is Shuto, but the mechanics are no different than a Gedan Barai to the side, just sweeping downward with a closed fist rather than an open hand, really does not matter, the principles, the mechanics, the rhythm, it is all the same.
An Art is really nothing more than a Strategy with Tactics built around that Strategy in such a way as to allow for many ways to a single end, but utilizing the most direct means, which are nothing more than variations off of maybe six tactics (movements segments rather than individual techniques).

In Goju Ryu we have a core of twelve Kata, two of which are for training internal principles, including body mechanics, the rest are simply applying these principles and are actually variations on, again, maybe six actual movement segments.
When things become down and dirty and all bets are off the stylistic nature of the training is left behind and the principles/concepts themselves take over in a more fluid and direct manner, the true nature of the beast is revealed.
People tend to forget this when they speak of usefulness and uselessness because they have not looked deeper into things, they only see the superficial.

Sensei once said that the journey was like driving in the dark with no headlights, but trusting... For what that is worth, it has been a long journey, and continues to confuse and confound.

Fine Points of Awareness.

Notice the bite of the bitter cold sink in as you step onto the curb, a reminder, awaken to the world around you, before you, even behind you, above you, and beneath you.
How often is anyone aware of what goes on around them? Truly aware of the person watching them, studying them from across the room, across the street, across the complex, or from the front of the city bus??
Do they notice the guy afar with constant traffic, exchanging words and gestures for a few seconds before one set of people leave and another arrives, constantly checking his six, eyes darting here and there?? Obviously THAT guy is aware, but how many others even take notice?
How long does it take you to notice a person has just walked up and stood next to you?? How many exits do you count in a building? How many avenues of escape do you have?? Did you even take notice??

How many Dojo include drills on this?? Little games to test this sort of 'situational awareness' in order to hone in on subtle and not-so-subtle behaviors, patterns, and breaches in patterns (anomalies)??
It has been an ongoing practice of mine to be aware of everything around me, to know who is in my vicinity and who is going to be in my vicinity within the next few seconds, or who has exited my vicinity.
What I have gathered from this day to day practice is that most are unaware of anything that goes on around them because they are buried in their cell phones, chatting with their friends, completely oblivious to everything and everyone around them until they suddenly, and quite surprisingly to them, find it in their direct line of sight.

This is a major problem, especially when these figures include members of the Martial Arts Community, members of the Security Patrol meant to keep an eye on property and people, even members of Law Enforcement as they go about their business, but less so in this area.
The things you notice when you start to pay attention, truly pay attention, will astound you. For one, people that you notice are aware tend to become aware of you and tend to avoid you, eye contact is broken as they sweep their gaze somewhere else because you are, like them, aware... This means you are no longer an easy mark, if that was their intention, and more often than not that was exactly their intention.

Not only do you become more aware, you begin to project more, you hold your head up, you feel bigger and, therefor, you look bigger, you ARE bigger.
With this comes a sense of groundedness, you no longer need to seek to constantly move from your center because you are already centered, you move AS your center and this, too, projects outward... The experienced feel this much in the same way animals feel the presence of an Alpha... Exactly the same way.

Can you establish a baseline in any given area in order to become aware of patterns that surround you and, thus, pick out the anomalies in order to gain early insight into what is going on??
A person might act interested in something, but which way are their feet and their mannerisms pointing?? Are they just feigning interest in one thing in an attempt to hide their true intentions and their true target?? Their body language cannot conceal their intent for very long.

These are things to think about the next time you think you are a killer-kung-fu-hero as you train in the Dojo, Dojang, Kwoon or whatever it is you like to call that special place.
This is not to get down on anyone for training, quite the contrary, it is meant to bring awareness to an extra layer that can further enrich said training and bring it closer to operational status.

In the old days Sensei would have those of us who were Seniors remain vigilant for teaching opportunities, we called them openings, and taking an opening to teach a lesson was called a 'cut.'
It was a game for us, but it taught us to remain on guard, to never do anything half-assed, to always follow through and, when an opening was discovered and we received a cut, to improve upon ourselves by never allowing ourselves to present such an opening in the future.
Outside the Dojo we can all be friends, but on the Dojo Floor we are training, we are seeking openings and seeking to eliminate our own openings, on all levels, so that we have none left when we are out on our own facing down the cold on the curb and the person studying us from across the street.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Keep it Simple, Keep it Practical.

Most people equate practical with complicated and, as a result, come to believe that the most complicated things are the most effective/practical.
We see time and again that it is often the most basic of things, coupled with the fiercest and focused of mentalities, that gets the job done.

Kata in Karate tend to contain some pretty complex and, often, archaic movements that many people the world over claim to have the answers to and, more often than not, those answers tend to be among the most complicated because, in their minds, complicated equals practical.
It is the same with just about every other Style or System, other than those that tend to be straight forward, and there are a few of those within the various systems that have, historically, not been very straight forward whom have had some insight and found more straightforward expressions of what it is they have come to know.

Boxing is pretty straightforward, but it also does not pretend to be something it is not; it is a sport, but it is also a devastatingly brutal form of Combat and was not always just about punching.
Boxing in its' truest form was nothing more than doing whatever it took to get the other guy down and out, and that meant anything, now it is primarily Punching, but the goal remains the same.
In truth it is this sort of simplicity that makes it so effective, it is effective because it is straight forward and straight forward in its' very application, meaning there is nothing really hidden... No questions about what 'this' means or what that 'could mean.'
Muay Thai is another straight forward Combative similar to boxing, extremely brutal in its' simplicity, but far from simple, then we have Judo, at least in its' Kihon, followed by Japanese and Brazilian Jujitsu, but these are also subject to the infection of complexity.

The other night I found myself thinking about all this in relation to real street encounters... Really you only need one or two movements and solid intent to harm in order to take an attacker down.
If they come at you with a barrage of strikes you can cover and force your way in to turn the tables with a barrage of your own, turning the cover itself into an attack.
If they pull a knife their movements are going to be the exact same as if punching, no, an Attacker is not going to change to a 'knife style' mid-step because they have one mindset and one goal, this does not change, but it definitely ups the ante in regards to your life.
Simple movements are the practical movements and this goes against what passes for common sense these days, including when it comes to knife attacks.

So what is the point of training Kata with various complex motions? Each person tends to zero in on each individual movement as though it were its' own technique rather than the component piece of mechanics in a larger movement.
When training throws in Judo or Aikido the movement is often broken down into each of its' component parts in order to learn it and get it right by drilling each piece over and over, only then can things be learned and mastered and the final product become so smooth and effortless.
Karate is no different, it just happens to be a striking Art, but not in the same way that Boxing or Kickboxing are Striking Arts and what appears to be complex is nothing more than one fluid thing that has a beginning and an end in a series of component parts or processes.

These are meant to be trained in a certain way so that they can be applied with little lost in the carry over between floor and street.
Forget simply punching and kicking, but look to the movement as a whole, things begin to seem less complex, a lot more simple, and the art itself is understood in a whole new light that sets it up right beside Judo and Aikido and possibly bridges to Boxing, although I do not see much of what would qualify as an actual 'Punch' in any system of Karate, other than those Modern Systems that have incorporated Boxing... Nothing wrong with that, other than it seems as though the founders did not maintain sufficient understanding of their art and, as a result, tended to branch off.
Strong statement? Sure. Accurate? Pretty sure they would be forthcoming with that if it is possible to ask them, no harm, no foul.

Kata itself is something that people practice again and again and, whether people know it or not, even if they claim otherwise, whenever they are working their basics, working on mechanics in solo form, or even with a partner (Judo Kata are partnered) then they are practicing Kata.
True Kata provides depth, and it comes in many different variations, the solo version allows you to go full force, or even slow things down and look at things individually in your spare time without a partner.
Think of it along the lines of a Soldier who breaks his gun down in order to clean it and make sure it is in working order.

This is also a way to train for the mentality that may be missing from the Dojo, that grittiness, that dirt that is required for a technique to have any lasting effect on anyone who tries to club you upside the head in the real world.
There is, certainly, a difference between reality and training and it definitely helps to be aware of this, but leaving out aspects completely, without explanation, is simply a cop-out and does more harm than good when a Student has to defend themselves and simply does not have the proper 'go switch' for their Spirit to get in the fight and do some damage.
Heavy bags work too, mainly so you get the feel for striking something, but you need to integrate ALL of these in your mind with full awareness that training itself is one big Kata meant to break everything down into its' component parts so that each can be practiced safely.

My Sensei's Sensei, John Roseberry Shihan, was always fond of saying 'Keep it simple, keep it practical,' a big proponent of the K.I.S.S. Philosophy and since it isn't broken there is no need to fix it.
Keep it simple, keep it practical, and keep training.

Beyond Distinctions.

Some people say the world is getting to be a very dangerous place, other people say the world is actually getting safer, but has it ever really mattered what other people say to begin with?
If you get lost in the woods on a hike tomorrow do you know what to do in order to survive? Do you know which plants you can eat, which you can use for medicine, and which can kill you?

There is a plant called a Water Hemlock, which is related to the Poison Hemlock that was used as the method of carrying out the execution of Socrates (also a Martial Artist), and it is among the deadliest plants in the world.
Do you know how to identify it? If not you may want to take a few moments and find out, just to be safe when drawing water from any old drinking hole into a cantine.

What is my point in all this? Awareness. Being fully aware of what you do know, and what you don't know. What your limits are, and training to eliminate those.
Many people, when they think of 'Martial Arts' or 'Budo' only think about certain things, some sort of preconception they have been conditioned to picture in their mind's eye, white Gi (or some sort of Kung Fu outfit), little old Mysterious Asian Guy who can kill you with his pinkey finger.

The image of picking plants in the wilderness, hunting, Shotguns, Rifles, Handguns, Fatigues, proper cleaning and butchering of an animal, knowing the difference between good plants and bad plants, making a shelter, awareness in a crowd, or even the image of Socrates... These do NOT come to mind for most... At least not all of them, some maybe, but not all.
Most like to think their 'system' or 'school' or 'Teacher' has all the answers and they feel they can rest easy knowing this, and there are quite a few Teachers out there that would encourage this sort of thinking, this sort of Blind, Cult-Like Faith.

The fact of the matter is that if a Teachers says you do not need to know how to Grapple then they do not know how to Grapple, if a Teacher says you do not need to know how to fight standing up, then they do not know how to fight standing up... A great Teacher can admit their limitations and, if they have not worked those out, they can point you in the right direction to help you out in those areas.
Karate CAN be used in Ne Waza, or Ground Work, and Brazilian Jujitsu CAN be used in Stand-up, however, it is the focus of the individual that determines the use (and just how effective their application of either will be).
Can either of these tell you which plants are okay to eat in the wild? No. They can't teach you about Gun Safety either, nor can they teach you to shoot.
So within a certain context, sure, they are flexible, but only within a certain context.

Kris Wilder Sensei once told me that the best thing about being Independent of any Organizational Heirarchy was that YOU determine what is permissible in your School.
If you want to invite someone to come in and teach a Knot-tying Seminar or a Binding and Securing Seminar then you can, you can also partner with people who can take your Students into the woods and teach them something about tracking, learning which plant is good, which is bad, whatever is available, and whatever they wish to pursue.

My Sensei once told me that a Budoka's aim was to achieve the formless form, free from all forms, an expression of the essence of principle beyond it all, yet through it all, bound by nothing and using former bonds to help others reach beyond them.
Not his exact words, but the point was clear, or at least the point is clear now. 

Friday, September 25, 2015

First Nature.

What is Kata? What is a Technique? When all is said and done, what is the value of a 'Style' to begin with and why learn it?
There was a great book I read a few years ago called 'Five Years, One Kata' by a Karateka named Bill Burgar who had taken the Kata Gojushiho and ripped it apart for five years, coming to an understanding so deep that it would literally take him weeks to go through even one portion of the Kata.
By the end of the book he had reached an insight that it would be far better to study one's self and create their own Kata based on their findings than to study someone else's Kata because it, ultimately, made no sense to do so... Especially if a Student's goal is to apply what they have learned and apply it right away.

There is another great book I am reading right now written by a man named Richard Moore and it is basically about empowering the individual to utilize their FIRST nature because it is always much faster and more effective than what they have programmed into their SECOND nature.
It is an interesting concept, it does go a long way to put down repetitious training and the like basically stating that everything you have now is everything you need, you just need to pay attention and trust it, but how does one come to trust it if not through repetitious trainin (exposure)?

I agree wholeheartedly with both authors...

The Human Body can only move in so many ways and what does Kata amount to but the stringing together of the same basic movements in different patterns?
The Author, Richard Moore, says it best when he says, and I am paraphrasing, it is better to see what happens with what you have in different situations than to learn hundreds of different techniques to deal with hundreds of different situations.
This is true when you watch various fight videos that show people using some of the most basic things to put down an attacker on the street, or snapping back from a position after being taken by surprise, but again, with some of the simplest of things in order to put down the attacker... Situations vary, but the goal remains the same and so do the basic movements, just varied depending on things like distance, position, and circumstance.

With Kata being basically the same thing wrapped up in different ways, what is the thing that has been wrapped up?
The original findings of the original practitioner pointing to something they came to understand that was important enough for them to pass on... These things do have value, but only insofar as they can teach something.
If one becomes stuck on these things to the point of reverence then what is it they can actually teach? Have they not died at the point they can no longer lead to personal growth and point toward the deeper levels of the practitioner him or her self??

If they are utilized properly then they are powerful in that they provide deep lessons, but point beyond themselves at the same time... Pointing to the true center of your practice, which should be the path to your true, unhindered self.
What this means is that the Kata themselves are unimportant, the basics are unimportant, the techniques are unimportant, even the deeper concepts of mechanics are unimportant.
Broken down to the least common denominator, reacting with what you ALREADY HAVE is the most important thing to learn, thus you must unlearn all the other crap and get back to basics, there is nothing OUT THERE that is worth more than what is already WITHIN.

My Sensei would teach a new Kata and when you went back through it to repeat the sequences and forgot a step he would NOT help you, he would LET you work it out just to see what you came up with on the fly.
It didn't matter if it was right or wrong, what mattered was that it came from within and THAT is the true essence of Budo... Rediscovering what Richard Moore calls your First Nature and utilizing THAT as your primary way because its authenticity makes it most effective for YOU.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Jingle Bells.

Working a little bit on footwork from Seipai Kata tonight, focusing on posture, weight shifting, and transitioning with varied timing rather than stopping for emphasis on 'stance' as is the case with most performances of any Kata these days, usually for the sake of winning trophies.
At one point I realize I had the weight transition all wrong so I end up going back over that again and again, but what is the purpose of this that has me feeling as though the weight transition is wrong?? Some innate intuition that this is something trying to tell me something about the intent of the movement itself??

I end up adding the arms back in, focusing more on moving everything as a single unit, the transition goes smoothly and correctly once everything moves together and feels just right.
In my mind it is easy to visualize what I am doing, working through the entry point, then the transition, which involves parrying/sticking, seizing the head, slight choke, then drop for leverage/possible break (who says Kata never had an original intent).
Certainly there is room for variation through Oyo, but in that moment the visuals helped to guide the principles, the 'why' helped to define the 'how' without my even consciously realizing it at first, beginning with the feeling that something was 'off' without consciously knowing 'why' it felt off - without a point of reference there is no reason for it to feel right or wrong, unless there really is a right way.

That is neither here nor there, the main point is in awareness, mindfulness leading the practice without anything added which allowed for certain things to come to the surface intuitively, thus, the Kata was allowed to speak, allowed to teach of its' own accord without interference.
Who is to say this is not just me coming up with something based on principles with which I have become familiar over the last twenty five years?? That is certainly a possibility, definitely a probability, but is that not true of everyone in their quest for whatever??
Sensei used to allude to the fact that the true self could never be found unless we got out of our own way, that too much thinking was a hindrance to actual practice, thus, too much theorizing and too much 'expert thinking' lead to Karate becoming impotent.

Sure this COULD mean that and that COULD mean this, but with so many open-ended theories and vague little mental pathways where does one begin and the other end??
Wilder Sensei wrote about a 'Decision Stick' in the book 'The Way of Kata' that he wrote with Lawrence Kane Sensei and it is all about making things as simple as possible so as not to become stuck during a situation that calls for quick decision making.
Shihan Roseberry ALWAYS says 'Keep it simple,' and follows it by adding 'Keep it practical,' basically saying the two go hand-in-hand and MORE THAN IMPLYING that our own brains are our worst enemies when it comes to Budo.

As I focused everything was present, principles of Muchimi, Gamaku, Chinkuchi, Atifa, all fell into place and, you know what? The fancy names and running through various aspects of each principle had little to nothing to do with the actualization of the principles themselves.
'Something feeling off' was much deeper than that, yet much more primitive, something that words cannot really do justice, but those same words, those same aspects of each principles are the root, the very tool of teaching that point the way, but must be discarded if they are to be understood and actualized.
The first time I had met Shihan Roseberry was at the old Bremerton Dojo on Callow Street, I was a 7th Kyu or 6th Kyu, doesn't matter, I was a kid that barely knew how to stand up straight, anyways, he once said it was possible to do a perfect Kata if you simple hummed the tune 'Jingle-Bells' throughout the performance.

I am not going to add anything to that odd little trick, just let that hang in the air and fester.... Jingle Bells.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Expect the Unexpected.

Something interesting I came across recently was an E-Book entitled 'Outlaw Karate' by some guy names Al Case (refers to himself as Master and even has some Youtube Videos as well as a number of Published books, including some novels).
The book caught my attention because of the title so I read it beginning to end, nothing really special contained in the pages other than a reference to some other books the guy has Published entitled 'Matrixing Karate' which is a five book series claiming to teach, perfect, and Master Karate in just a few months or less.

I would normally have brushed something like this off as complete non-sense, but something within the book 'Outlaw Karate' caught my attention.
Nothing special, certainly, but some basic information on mechanics, not even that, much less, it takes just a few short pages to explain the entirety of Kris Wilder's in-depth work on Sanchin Kata without even missing a beat it works this as the central theme of the book with the Kata presented not even mattering, one could easily replace them with Kata of their own system and go from there.

The man is one of those people trying to make a buck, and doing a very good job it seems, and the videos show a guy that looks completely out of shape, but he does give some interesting lessons in paying attention to similarities between techniques in regards to what I have come to know as 'Pathways of Motion.'
Teaching along these lines, I have always felt, gets people much more quickly to the point without wasting time on all the other stuff.
Do I feel this guy is legit? No. He probably just picked up a few things here and there and had enough sense to utilize what he picked up, but it does go to show that there is something to learn from everything if you pay close enough attention.

Sensei used to go on about the notion that words and concepts often got in the way of Practice because people constantly became hung up on certain things and completely missed the point.
What one sees as a fraud may have a deeper understanding than what one accepts as legitimate and, as a result of their preconceived notions, they miss out on something that just might yield deeper insight and produce exactly what they need, or perhaps those that find what they need find exactly what they are looking for because they expect to find it? Maybe it works both ways.

The unexpectedness of things often snaps us back to the reality of the moment and forces us to pay close attention, to be mindful without obstruction of thought, word, or conception.
Like a proverbial Kaishaku smaking us upside the head we are jostled out of our lazy haze and back into full-on alert mode.
Sensei would often do things like this, unexpectedly telling us to 'get out' during Zazen, sitting in the Zendo, in the middle of a Zen Intensive at his home in Lacey... I simply left and went to sit Zazen in the living room until I heard the bell to signify the end of the session.
There were many instances like that, so many that they became expected and, thus, he did what was unexpected at that moment and simply sat quietly, changing everything up again.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Deconstructing the Impossible.

When we were children we used to believe anything was possible, but as we grow older we start to believe more along the lines of 'within reason' which is really another way of saying 'that is beyond me so there isn't even really a point in trying.'
Training, in my life, takes place every day, there is no 'try' about it, it happens, if this frame of mind were to be applied to training would anyone ever really get beyond where they are now? Would they be better than they were yesterday or even the day before that?

Others also like to say the words 'can't' or 'never' or 'impossible' yet fail to realize that with each breath they utter these words, with full conviction, they become reality.
Whatever you put your heart, mind, and spirit into is what you become, what you actualize for yourself in each moment you put yourself into that thing... So 'anything is possible' is the direct gateway to 'within reason' or 'impossible' and there lay the paradox.

Sensei was always fond of pointing these things out without pointing them out, unless he did not actually know he was pointing them out, but just pointing to something deeper each time.
I remember the first board I broke in the Dojo... We were practicing for a demonstration we were going to give at an Elementary School for kids that were right around the same age I was.
The first board did nothing but leave a nasty sting in my hand as I attempted the first hammerfist with as loud a Kiai as I could muster, not knowing a thing about Kiai at the time, it really was nothing more than a loud shout, useless for much else but noise.

Noel Mendoza, my senior at the time, came up to me after I broke the board and was convinced that I had 'scared it' because he swore it 'broke before I even touched it.'
Mind you these were actual boards and not rebreakable boards and it was likely a trick of his eyes because I definitely felt the thing, although it was a different feel than the first time, not as painful.

What was different? The first one I simply TRIED to break the board, I did not break the board, nor did I believe I could break the board, but breaking the board was a possibility, within reason, right? After the first attempt I doubted whether or not it was even possible.
'Think through the board' was sound advice received on the first go, but advice that did not really sink in until I managed to step up for the second go on the same board.
Now it is easy to sit in seiza with a board propped between two bricks, barely lift my flat unclenched hand by maybe an inch and simply drop it through the board, what makes it possible? Anything is possible and the board is already broken.

Is there some sort of mystical thing happening? Is there a metaphysical link between the physical world and my focus? That leads us back to 'within reason' and towards 'impossible' if we try to explain it, apply theories to it, or otherwise quantify it rather than just do it.
Perhaps there are some who need that sort of thing, but it is a double-edged sword, work it into too much theorizing and you end up creating your own limitations, unfortunately said limitations become so hard to break once they are ingrained.

This is the type of focus that should be in each and every motion, each and every breath, each and every second of every single day.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Courtesy and Manners.

It had been a number of years since the last time my feet had stood on that floor, no windows, the place had always felt kindof dingy and there had always been an uptight, tense atmosphere.
The Head Instructor, though a man of small stature, had a commanding presence, in fact, a demanding presence extending outward would be a more accurate description and it was obvious that he liked to be reminded of his position, both directly and indirectly.
 Perhaps this was deserved, perhaps it was not, but my place was to train, so I started running through my Kata as I joined everyone else on the floor.

I went through all three Gekesai and on to Kakuha, then started to work on Saifa as one of the Yudansha walked towards me, "Sensei asks that you only practice Goju Ryu Kata in this Dojo."
Fair enough, so I widdled it down to the original twelve and began practicing as the Head Instructor watched from a corner, then came over with the Black Belt from the previous encounter in tow.
I cannot remember the Black Belt's name, but the Head Instructor had me go with him and work on their two beginner Kata, Fukyu 1 and 2, pretty intense stuff, over and over, drilling it like a Military Drill Instructor, faster, stronger, harder!
The body would move from the feet, up through the hips, and swing/whip at the top... Nothing much more to it than that, at least not at first.

For days it went like this, at one point my foot was injured, but I kept it up with the Head Instructor making jokes a few times and even calling me up in front of class at another point to give a speech about 'family' and presenting me with a Patch to put on my Gi.
Honestly, the atmosphere was more like a cult than anything else, and it was all designed around one person's fondness of their position, both directly and indirectly, of the authority it yielded such a person, maybe earned, maybe not.
It was not my first encounter with this sort of spirit, nor would it be the last.

The final decision to leave that place and never return was made as I was taken into a back dressing room where one of the Head Instructor's Senior Students presented a print out of some conversations I had had with another Student in a Forum on the Internet.
I cannot remember the details of that conversation, but it was not really that bad, I believe it consisted of some questions that Student had that I had answered, in either case there were some things brought up that struck a nerve because that Student was 'excommunicated' from that Dojo.
I was presented with a choice because at the time I had decided to Teach and I had my Teacher's permission to do so, but this person maintained that they, alone, were the authority in the area and in order to Teach I would need THEIR blessing.

After some long thought, and some observations concerning the Senior and Junior Students at that Dojo I had decided to leave and pick up back on my own.
We all have a gut for a reason and my own gut had been telling me to get out from day one, based on the feel of the place, the tension in the air, the way the Seniors behaved towards the Juniors, even the mechanics of the movements seemed off and often promoted injury... One person had a bad shoulder, two bad knees, a hip that popped, heck, my first week on that floor and I had a foot injury just from doing Kata and was expected to keep going, to keep running.
There are some awesome qualities to this sort of training when done properly, but some really nasty after effects when done improperly, and improper training only implies one thing... Carelessness for the right way to do something on the part of the guy at the top.

A lot was learned each day and the gentleman was definitely a wealth of knowledge, but definitely regarding his own way of doing things as he did not much care for other source material that spoke of other ways, of deeper mechanics, ect.
In the end all one really needs to do, before they set foot on any training floor, is to look at the behavior of the Students and the Teacher, is there mutual respect or is there some sort of militaristic worship of the guy at the front of the class while the guy at the front is cruel to everyone else?
What about after the fact? Is the Teacher a heavy drinker promoting a very bad example that the Students pick up on and, sometimes, even enable??
Is the Teacher in good health, or bad health?

In the end there are certain things that are more important that a Teacher's reputation. 

Monday, August 31, 2015

Aiki Do.

I am not formally ranked in the art of Aikido in any way, shape, or form, but it is very much a part of my practice and has been since the age of sixteen when I was first introduced to it through Bud Cook's group at the Evergreen Learning Center with whom I did some cross training on the weekends and had the opportunity to train with on many other occasions.
I have also had the opportunity to train under and become very great friends with a man that comes from a family that practiced both Aikido and a form of Jujitsu, with roots in the Military, thus, having trained in Japan at Hombu Dojo.

Aikido is not a form, it is not a combat sport, it is not to be considered as a Martial Science at all, but is more of an essence, thus, I do not believe it can truly be contained as one thing, in one shape.
The essence of Aikido is in the study and application of Aiki, which is harmony and not in just technique, but in all things, to live harmoniously, to live in accord with ourselves and others, not to fight, but to invite.
O-Sensei utilized techniques such as Ikkyo, Nikkyo, Sankyo, Heaven and Earth Throw, Four Corners Throw, Pins, to demonstrate deeper principles than mere techniques.
The true power of Aikido lay in that deeper realm that exists beyond words, that O-Sensei fumbled around with in order to open the gate within the mind's-eye so that we might catch a glimpse, to which, I believe, may have been missed on the majority in practice, and teaching, today.

Some see it as only one thing and one thing only without looking any deeper, clinging to these techniques, to the outer appearance of an 'art' or 'style' as if this is what O-Sensei had passed on and intended.
I can easily teach Aiki through Goju Ryu Kata, or through Dance Steps in Salsa or West Coast Swing, or in Sketching, or in just about anything else, it does not really matter, too much emphasis is placed on the outer appearance rather than the inner essence which has more to do with us than we might, at first, know.

I was thinking about all this today as I was going through some of the Aikido Warm-Ups like Happo-Undo, thinking about my Tanden after watching a Documentary that went into detail on the Tanden, how a Karateka had his first experience with Aikido and because he was not using his Tanden correctly was only able to rely on brute force.
This says A LOT about the state of things, not only about what an individual may have to work on both physically and mentally, but also that most tend to focus on the wrong thing entirely.

If I got through a movement what am I focusing on? The hands? The feet? Both? Or is my mind settled where it should be, in the Tanden? Does my Tanden stay level as I move or does it drop in some places and raise in others? Does it twist? Move sideways? Straight forward and back? Why? How does this work in tandem with the movement in order to make it effective?
When someone pushes in am I meeting that with a return push of my own, which really does nothing? Am I allowing the movement through and simply directing it in a way that is beneficial to me in order to overcome the opponent with their own momentum and energy? How is my center factoring into all this, or is it just arms and muscle again?
How does this apply to other areas of life??


Recently I have really been thinking a lot about the direction of my practice and what it actually means, but more importantly, who I am in the midst of it all, does it shape, or do I shape it, or is it something in between??
What does it provide deep inside? Some sense of identity? Of belonging? If that is the case then it is not really something worth holding onto because it only serves as yet another mask, another story, an identity rather than THE identity.
Perhaps this is why my own Sensei gave up his Karate Practice, so that he could pursue the deeper aspects of himself, which is supposed to be what Budo is all about anyway.

The fact remains that I enjoy it. Not that I really get much else out of it or that it provides me with something profound, but that I enjoy it and it is truly a part of me, like breathing, walking, sitting, or lying down... There are days that I don't quite enjoy it as much, but even still, it is a challenge.
Lately I have been looking at Kata Sanseru, ever since the last time I practiced the IOGKF Version with my friend Nyles Seaton at his place, but I have not been looking at the IOGKF Version, which is the original version I learned despite my being from the lineage of Seikichi Toguchi/John Roseberry.
Similarities and differences abound... No, I have been really studying the Seiko Higa version, which I seem to have really connected with as it makes total sense to me.

Some might say 'why pursue that one if it is not the way you originally learned it,' and to them I say 'Why not??' It is MY practice and I will do with it as I please, if something speaks to me then I am certainly going to pursue it and see where it leads.
I have also recently taken up the practice of Kakuha, Gekiha 1 and 2, and Gekesai Dai San again as well, having initially stuck to the twelve Goju Ryu Kata, but these are things that I feel are very important to me and need to be included, for myself.

I am not a Karateka that is bound by an Organization that tells me what to practice... I may not have the rank with fancy certificates that say 'Godan' hanging on the wall of Dojo, but my practice is authentic in the way that it has nothing to do with any of that.
Keeping one point in all this means being authentic to yourself, it means listening to yourself... Why do you do what you do? Is it just another escape? Just another story your tell yourself as you look in the mirror? Does it provide some bit of identity that you could otherwise discover by simply looking inward? What is the point of your practice? When this is discovered then you will have discovered true authenticity and 'keeping one point' will prove less difficult in the end.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Knowing Nothing.

I am not a Master and the more I see people playing at being a 'Master' or 'Founder' or 'Soke' or what have you the more I realize it is probably best to sit on the sidelines.
Half the time I realize that I know absolutely nothing and really should not even claim to be 'Teacher' of anyone, what is there to possibly Teach anyway?

I am a Student of Budo, not Karate, not Aikido, but Budo as a whole, and will always explore it from various angles, yet will likely never come close to grasping much of anything.
While people out there go to Gasshuku, Taikai, or some other fancy name I am simply going over a single movement out of Seipai for hours in the park, or in a room, for weeks on end trying to make heads or tails of what could possibly be going on in that stupid thing... On other days I am playing around with Nikkyo from Irimi, then Tenkan, looking only at the feet or feet in conjunction with everything else, whatever strikes me as needing focus at the time.

Picking things apart, breaking things down, an hour looking at Gamaku, two hours on Chinkuchi, Five months on Atifa in order to get it right.... There are no promotion requirements, there are no belt gradinings or curricula, there is only this, right here, right now, that needs work, always needs work.
Focus down, now up, forward and up, back and down, down and forward, back and up, left and right, twist and turn, sweep with the body, not the leg, to a specific point on the opponents' foot/leg, ahhh, still needs a lot of work.

Maybe now to focus on Kiso Kumite, or specific pieces within the movements of Kiso Kumite Godan or Judan, whichever, fancy numbers, pick and choose depending on what needs work.
It is not a race and not a game, train not to lose, but do not worry about winning... It is always about moving up in rank and stature with some groups, always about the ritual structure with most, but on the floor, in the park, in the room, with this attitude, nothing else matters but the fact that I do not 'get it,' but must never cease.

This is not Goju Ryu Karate, nor Ki Society Aikido, this is just Budo, just Sabaki-Jutsu, it is about the Principles of movement, not learning some move, there is a huge difference there.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


Concepts, in my view, are a better approach than treating things as though they are written in stone and Sensei did often talk about the 'Formless Form' that came with deeper understanding.
The term 'Kuzushi' means to imbalance and can be an art unto itself, simply studying how to imbalance an opponent in various ways seems to be the basis for Arts such as Judo, Aikido, and Jujutsu, but people tend to focus solely on the physical aspects of imbalance.
When we train we must understand how the mind can be knocked off balance and work to defend against these things, not just in the Dojo, or on the Street, but in everything we do.

We used to play a game at the old Bremerton Dojo where we would look for openings and 'cut' the other person in an effort to teach a lesson about not leaving oneself open in that way.
These were meant to teach us attention to detail and never to become lazy in our actions, to always focus, to always be ready for whatever may come and to never... Ever... EVER lose our One Point.

Of course there are some great physical drills for this sort of training, one should spend a lot of time doing Kakie in various forms along with other Kuzushi drills and apply Kuzushi from Kata to seek a deeper understanding.
These are traditional, another way is to get a partner and simply practice pushing and pulling in various ways with a mind to feel and develop sensitivity... Not just to merely push or pull an opponent, but with a mind to feel their center in conjunction with your own in order to displace it, which is far more effective than merely pushing or pulling without such a focus.
From there one can move to a less static drill, having the opponent actively come at you or pull you as you counter the movement based on said sensitivity.
As you go on you will be able to see how a simple thing like talking or lightly touching the wrist can disrupt the opponents' mind as though you have moved a Mountain with your Pinkey Finger.

Apply this to stressful situation you may encounter throughout the day or the week as you go to work or even in your off time and the sensitivity works wonders at helping you to maintain that One Point, effectively countering any attempted mental disruptions and stress with ease.
Leave no openings and do not be lazy in your stance, but anchor in your center in all things...

The Secret Sword.

Pondering some things that Sifu Pete Starr wrote recently, one of which really drove home a very important lesson.
I have read and re-read a book called 'Heiho Kadensho' by Yagyu Munenori and he talks about focusing on the 'Secret Sword' of the opponent while Sifu Starr talks about focusing on the opponent, reading the opponents' intention, but not focusing on WHAT they are doing exactly, in other words, getting hung up.

Sifu Starr talks about the disadvantage an opponent has in their attacks because their mind is only focused on one thing at a time while the advantage is found in, again, not focusing on what the opponent is doing (ie their fist coming at your head) but on the opponent... Not only ON the opponent, but through them, and not on 'this response' to 'that attack,' but on stopping them.

I was the most junior Student during Saturday Morning Sparring Classes at the old Bremerton Dojo, eleven years old, just barely learning Hookiyu Kata Dai Ichi, and I had no idea what Bunkai was and I was most certainly focused on the belt color of the person I was facing.
Sensei would have one person stand in the middle of the floor with a line of people ready to attack, the person could only defend and had to go through until the last person had a chance to attack, then would switch with next person.
When it was my time to face the line I was extremely nervous, I took note of the belt color, green, brown, another green belt, and would often zero in on the attacks, which meant I got hit... A LOT...

These days people focus on 'X' responses to 'Y' attacks and get hung up on these things, when it comes time to perform they zero in on these things and wonder why their basic training is not working out as well in Sparring.
Because they are TRYING to apply what they know and forget to focus on the 'Secret Sword,' hence, the other person, they lose their one point... Sensei always used to say 'You think too much, don't think, just do.'
That is something that cannot be repeated enough... When going through Kata it is okay to make corrections, to think about mechanics and proper angles in Embusen, but one cannot become hung up on these things and there must be a point, in Kata, where you focus on the 'Secret Sword' in order for it to be useful as more than just a training tool for correction.
It is meant to promote muscle memory and does not require much of the conscious mind, other than focus.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Mind, Body, and Spirit.

To this day it is hard to remember the full sequence for Kata Kakuha Dai Ni, it takes a bit of a memory jog in order to get through it as it is, essentially, Kakuha Dai Ichi and an opposite/backwards Seisan mixed together to form a single Kata.
No video of this Kata exists online, so being able to recall it by memory is a blessing, although sometimes I wonder if I am actually recalling it correctly... When there are so many people doing the exact same thing it does not lend to appreciating the rare things because nothing, in that instance, is rare.

I can proudly say that I am the only one in the City of Spokane that practices the Toguchi/Roseberry lineage of Goju Ryu which includes Hookiyu/Kihon Kata Dai Ichi and Dai Ni, Kata Gekesai Dai San, Gekiha Dai Ichi, Gekiha Dai Ni, Kakuha Dai Ichi, Kakuha Dai Ni, Gakusei No Kata, and the Golden Crane Kata created by Roseberry Shihan.
Dascenzo Sensei once showed me Hakatsuru No Mai of the Shorei Kan lineage, but it was only once, and nothing was really retained except for a few fuzzy portions of broken sequences, however, all of this being rare in this City makes me appreciate these finer points that much more.

There are also the various Kiso Kumite which are a great workout along with the various Renzoku Bunkai for each Kata which can be truly appreciated as flow drills meant to train for specific things.
Most times people simply look at these things as something to 'mark off' in order to be able to test, but for me they have deep meaning and I do not have the luxury of testing again anytime soon, so there is much more behind the reasoning of keeping these things fresh.
There is much more than just going through the motions... When moving, do we simply act as if we are at a spa or gym, talking and carrying on while our movements are nothing more than a formality?? No! Anything loses meaning when it lacks real spirit or focus, when it does not come alive.

Physical aspects of training depend exclusively on the internal aspects of Mind, Body, and Spirit... If these things are out of sync they must be balanced for proper all-inclusive training.
Training is nothing if it does not involve ALL aspects and there is always a reason for drills and Kata, whether they be in the Shorei Kan lineage, the IOGKF, the Jundokan, Meibukan, Chi-I-Do, whatever the case may be, there is no difference in spirit.
The appreciation comes when one starts to penetrate the surface and dig deeper into what they are doing... The form might matter depending on what aspects of training you wish to focus on, as well as the context, but in each, if the mind is not present, the spirit is not present, and the body is simply going through the motions then there is NO training taking place.

Reflecting Deeper.

Back in the day it was all about where one stood in line, all about moving from the left end of the line to the right end, and then up to the front of the class.
Testing was what drove everything back then, perfecting everything one knew in order to pass the next exam and there was even a thing known as 'challenging the test,' which I had done several times since I had begun training at the Olympic Martial Arts Center on Callow in Downtown Bremerton.
I was even part of the AAU Tournament Team and part of that 'inner circle' of 'Senior Students' that always hung out together, always trained together, brothers and sisters of the Dojo, that sort of thing... They are my friends to this day and there is not a whole lot I would not do for any one of them.

I had met Shihan Roseberry several times as a kid, even trained with him at his 'Research Center' in Lincoln Nebraska and spent the night at his house after swimming at the pool where he worked as a lifeguard with the rest of the Tournament Team as we made our way to Chicago Nationals.
Skipping forward a bit I had slowed down, I realized the value in focusing on just one thing in order to understand it rather than to simply know what I needed to know in order to pass my next exam, which lead me down a path of inner searching... I ended up being Shihan Roseberry's Otomo during his visit to Olympia... A very stressful job and, to top it off, I was very ill, though not with the flu, something else entirely, but I managed to step onto the floor and stay at Shihan's side for as long as possible.

In the beginning it was all about position, later it was simply about staying the course, never giving in and never giving up.
What is more it is about appreciation that leads to deeper understanding... I had wondered very deeply about the usefulness of Kata, why did we perform these things? What purpose did it serve to do different Kata? Were they just exercises or was there something more going on?
Shihan knew, my Sensei knew, but I did not... I was just barely starting to look into these things and Kata was just barely starting to register on my radar beyond simple movement patterns they we practiced simply because they were part of our way... Or simply because they were meditation.

For quite a while afterwards I focused solely on Hookiyu/Kihon Kata (the one created by Seikichi Toguchi) and sought some understanding of each movement or sequence and ran them by my Sensei in various E-Mails and face to face questioning.
I would get up in the morning and spend hours on just the opening (which is the same as Gekesai Kata) keeping an eye towards what was going on 'between' what are accepted as the 'main' movements of the Kata.

It is extremely important to question everything, but also extremely important to realize when your mind is playing too big a role in your training.
I have researched Kata with the best of them, and on my own, and have seen many variations to realize where things have been changed for the purposes of 'making the art safer' along the lines of Kano's Judo as this shows a progressive change between what was practiced prior to WWII and after WWII... It provides an appreciation, but the journey is far from over and I still understand VERY little.
So it is amusing when someone claims to have so much knowledge as to make it obvious when 'rank' is going to their heads.

Introducing The Greatest Teachers - Difficulty and Doubt.

Sensei used to talk about those who loved the IDEA of training, but when it came time to train they would make themselves scarce, often only showing up to stand round in Karate Gi leaving one to wonder just how they managed to earn the right to wear the darker piece of cloth around their waists.
Shihan said, on more than one occasion, that these people were very good at Kuchi Waza, or Mouth-Flapping-Drills, and knew very little of any sort of experience on the floor.

There are a lot of really nice training facilities out there, really big Organizations, really high ranking Yudansha with some very neatly framed fancy certificates.
I do not have any of these things, I often train with a friend on the weekends where we go through Kata and do some basic drills along with some light Hojo Undo... I do not have a Dojo of my own, I have a Gi and a Belt that my Sensei gave me as he was getting rid of all the Karate related stuff from his home... My Shodan certificate and most of my rank certificates were burned up in a fire... The last person to see my certificate in a frame was Kris Wilder.
So for all intents and purposes, all I have are the clothes on my back, the belt around my waist, and what knowledge I maintain in my head... I used to have some old videos that my Sensei had also given me in the purge, but, again, all I have is my training.

The point being that often people tend to focus more on the Belt of a person than they actually do on improving themselves.
The Belt may be an ideal, but the better way to go is not to be focused on the Belt at all, but to allow yourself to become what the ideal stands for, then the Belt Color ceases to matter because the true ideal for which you have worked shines through in the way you are, the way you train, the skill that comes out in your practice AND your everyday life.
In myself, I still have a very long way to go in many respects... A lot of people idolize getting a fifth or sixth degree Black Belt while I simply want to be better than I was yesterday.

It certainly is hard to continue sometimes, but sometimes the doubt itself is an excellent motivator. One Pointed focus is more than a frame of mind, it is a way of being.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Emulation to Insight - Shu, Ha, Ri, and Ku.

It is interesting to see young Karateka progress and come to certain realizations, and when it is easy to tell whether or not they are simply paying lip service to something they have heard or when they are really talking about something they have learned from their own experience and insight.
Back in the day it was easy to agree with Dascenzo Sensei, but did I really understand anything? Not in the slightest I would say and quite a bit of what I did back then was nothing more than emulation, repeating movements, repeating teachings, none of it was my own, none of it was insight.

Insight comes slowly and, sometimes, feels like a bag of bricks smacking you upside the head saying, 'Pay attention to this dumbass, there is more to it than you know.'
I was very good at paying attention, still am, and I was very good at picking things up, but again, it was easy to agree with Sensei and not to question because Sensei was there, although he did not give answers directly all the time, he would often give you a piece of the puzzle and expect you to find the rest on your own.
Still, even with only a piece, coupled with a good attention span, it was easy to agree with Sensei, to emulate, which is a natural part of the learning process in the beginning (the beginning being the first ten to fifteen years... This meaning there is only a hint of even superficial understanding on the part of the Student).

It is easy to say 'Yes Sensei, I understand,' perform the principle a couple of times in training, but only a couple of times as you start to wear out and give in to the little voice in your head that says, 'Okay, now I want to just give up, you can slouch and have semi-bad form for the last fifteen minutes,' of course Sensei always noticed and made it obvious without even saying a word.
Keeping One Point, Keeping Weight Underside, and Extending Ki all seem like simplistic, even outdated principles at first glance, and one might even think they understand them, but it has been twenty five years and these principles are the deepest, encapsulating every other aspect of Karate, indeed, beyond Karate itself... If a person has eyes to see, and half a brain... Which at the time, I did not (sometimes I wonder even now).

Sensei said that the Teacher never truly leaves the Student, the Student always leaves the Teacher, and this is necessary for the growth process.
I have had the opportunity to train with many great Teachers who come from many varied backgrounds who have graciously offered up what they have come to understand, from IOGKF USA Chief Instructor Gene Villa to Author and West Seattle Karate Instructor, Kris Wilder, and a brief, yet deep, encounter with Hiroo Ito Sensei, each offering up something different, yet something relevant, from which I continue to learn to this day.
 When I say learn it is no longer about emulation, it is about thinking deeply, applying, testing these things out, adjusting, and testing again, seeing how it fits for me as an individual and, from there, carrying forward with said insights to contribute as much as possible to the art a s a whole... Not that I truly get any of it, but I have had my moments and I am sure Sensei would still stop me and shake his head just to keep me on the straight and narrow.

When I began Karate I had come fresh from an after school Tae Kwon Do Program that had been closed down along with my Soccer Program, which I liked better, but decided I liked training in Martial Arts too because it kept my Soccer skills sharp.
I was a competitor and I got involved with competitive Karate almost from day one, my first tournament I performed Hookiyu Kata Dai Ichi as a 10th Kyu in front of this bald Asian Guy who was center judge that I would later find out was Teruo Chinen from Spokane.
That same tournament I had cut my foot on a stray piece of metal just before my division was to begin Kumite, I had it taped up and went in anyway.
I blasted through the ranks, learning each Kata, each set of drills, but one thing I really relished were the two person Kiso Kumite drills, and my goal was to learn my favorite Kata, Seiyunchin, before my thirteenth birthday... I achieved this at two and a half years at 4th Kyu and then slowed down.

I was awarded my 2nd Kyu by Charles Todd Sensei, a Student of Dascenzo Sensei who would constantly visit the Bremerton Dojo in his free time from EWU.
I had moved to Spokane with my family and gotten in touch with Todd Sensei who was teaching a small group out of the rec-room at his dorm and there I became his Dai Sempai and helped out with a seminar.
Did I really know anything? I was really into the positions, the titles, the belts, collecting Kata, but always practicing the highest Kata I knew, but eventually Todd Sensei had to move, so I was on my own, I kept training as a 2nd Kyu, I even received Sensei's blessing to maintain my own small group, so I began teaching out of my basement.
It was all well and fine, but eventually everything started to seem less important and I stopped wearing my belt and my Gi, I simply trained, and the more I trained I would focus more on Kihon and the more basic Kata and, eventually spent several weeks on end training a single Kata, one Kata for each month.

I eventually moved back and actually stayed at Dascenzo Sensei's house for a time in Olympia, I was about fifteen or sixteen, and the Bremerton Dojo had closed, but Sensei was now teaching out of the Evergreen Learning Center.
I had no inkling to test or to even achieve my Black Belt because I felt I still had a long way to go, which is probably why Sensei made me test.
Did I understand anything? Do I understand anything even now? I know what I know and I know that it will probably be wrong in a few days, a week, a month, a year, but I press on, I continue to train and learn from what I have, knowing full well I may never achieve any sort of importance within any kind of Karate hierarchy, but is that really important and does that really mean anything? Does it even equate to understanding on any level? In some cases, yes, it certainly does, but in other cases it certainly does not.

Keeping one point is more than just a principle, it is a way of life that says you continue on regardless of the situation, and even then, forget about the unimportant things, cut things down to the bare essentials and let others think about the other things until they realize for themselves what it is really all about.

Nori Nami.

Working footwork from various Kata tonight with a focus especially on Shisochin, not necessarily on getting the stances right or making everything look correct, but focusing more on directions of movement, angles, Embusen of the Kata.
If the correct floor plan is followed then everything else seems to fall into place, but there is always far more to it than that as it is pretty easy just to go through the angles enough times that it becomes second nature.

I remember quite a long time ago I was sitting on a Testing Board at the Evergreen Learning Center and there was this guy testing for his second or third strip on his Green Belt, he was rather small, rather timid, a lot like I was at one time.
Dascenzo Sensei always had a way of taking people out of their comfort zones and this one time was no exception as he had me go out and check this guy's techniques, his posture during Kata, but more than that, it seemed Sensei wanted to test his Spirit, put it through some fire and draw it out.
"David," he said, "we are going to break with Tradition a little bit." Interesting, I thought, I wondered where this was going and who, exactly, was Sensei going to test? This guy? Me? Both? "Jyu Kumite." was all he said and I nodded in understanding as my entire mind seemed to drop and steady with eyes refocused on the guy in front of me... Bare knuckles and all-out... Poor guy, I thought, but I held back a little bit... Gave a loud Kiai to frighten him as I rushed in.

Eventually he did start to push back as I goaded him, which was fine, that is what Sensei wanted, to see him come out of his shell and, what is more, to see him stop focusing on the belt and start focusing on what was right in front of him... To bring his mind, body, and spirit to one razor sharp point.
With each blow he was going harder, faster, and stronger, but I had been practicing Saifa each day about fifteen to twenty times a day as a special focus for myself and it seemed to just take over, no thought, my body followed the footwork, got me out of the way and sent elbows into his back as his momentum carried him forward to the places in which I had been standing.

Afterwards I was approached by a Russian man from a group of people that had been watching the test saying, "I really like how you moved, how did you do that??" I honestly was not even thinking about it, just said thank you, and lots' of practice.
In the beginning I had simply trusted my training, and in that moment I had given over to my training and allowed it to come out, my mind was one pointed, weight dropped through my whole body with each strike, as it does in the Kata, so weight was kept underside.

It is so easy to get caught up in what something may or may not mean that we simply forget to trust our training and we lose sight of what we are actually doing.
It is great to drill things out of Kata so that they might sink in better, but one thing Sensei always told me, "You think too much!" and "The only Zen on the Mountain is the Zen you take with you," which basically means that I think too much.

So back to the footwork... Focusing less on 'stances' and more on the Embusen, that is one way we can word it, but to go even deeper and say that it is better to focus on the shifting back and forth, the feel of the whole thing in constant motion, from quick, to slow, to quick again.
There are no real stops, it is like the tide on a beach, it breaks the shore, moves back out, and breaks the shore again... Wilder Sensei says not to be a returning wave and to understand the strategy of 'Nori Nami' or the returning wave... It is right there in Kata if we just stop thinking too much for even a single minute and focus on what we are doing, that is, if what we are doing is correct.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Kiai of a Moment.

The ability to maintain 'One Point' does not end with the ending of a Kata or after however many breaths, it continues and should be present in ALL motion AND stillness.
A continuous Kiai that goes beyond the audible 'shout' at set points within the Kata or on the count of ten during line-training, but pure and raw when all aspects are present and honed to 'One Pointed' power which cannot be mistaken, let alone faked.

There have only been a handful of times in which I have felt this type of 'Kiai' from another person and even becoming aware of this feeling I can say that I do not truly understand it in any really meaningful way.
You can see it on the calm face of a fighter about to step in the ring and KNOW in that instant who is going to win the match, but you can also feel it in silence, in an empty room that just resonates so deeply it changes you to the very core.
These words do not even come close to doing this thing justice.

How do we develop this within ourselves? Do we need to stand for hours without moving or thinking beyond our point of focus? Do we need to aggressively pursue Hojo Undo or Taisho Daruma? Do we need to hone our each and every technique to a point of laser precision? All of these above??
Are these things just by-products of the thing itself, or does it really have nothing to do with any of these??

We used to talk a lot about the 'Kiai' of a place or the 'Kiai' of a person, Dascenzo Sensei and I, which really brought the meaning of 'Kiai' into focus, beyond a simple exercise of yelling really loud.
What does it mean when you walk into a place and just feel grounded, or when you see the movement of a person that just seems to resonate with something far greater and seems to carry more 'mass' than is at first apparent??
Have you ever felt such a thing linger??

Again, most might dismiss this as nothing more than silly Mysticism, and that is fine, they may or may not utilize different words and ideas to describe the exact same thing... The words are as unimportant as the notions they also carry.
For me there is no denying, but I cannot truly convey in words, nor do I believe words of any kind can truly convey such a thing and there is still a long way to go before I am even capable of demonstrating this sort of thing myself.

Maybe one step is for each of us to take some time to stop and appreciate the space we are in, maybe we can get a taste of it, or maybe this is a completely backwards approach??
Another way may be to stop, watch, and listen to our Teachers, to feel what it is they are doing rather than merely seeing it, to hear what they are saying so there is some point of reference, and then to rework this experience into our own movements and see what happens??
This would necessarily require that we cease overthinking, that we stop trying to put in anything extra, that we seek to truly understand without trying to 'have our say' as the ego tends to have a lot to say and does not listen well.
Through this it may be possible to experience this thing and if the Teacher really is 'Present' it will be felt without question, there will be no mistaking it.

Maybe we have learned something from this and can allow it to sink in? Then again, what do I really know about it to begin with?? Ask your Sensei and try it for yourself, I know I will.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Fudo Shin Question.

The majority of Karateka in our time focus outward, very external, and lack any sort of insight or direction when it comes to the internal, myself included.
What does it truly mean to 'Keep One Point' as Shihan Roseberry and my own Teacher were fond of saying? Does it mean to maintain a constant center, ever mindful and vigilant in the face of whatever may come our way?
This is, perhaps, something I have missed, yet it has been on my mind day and night for more than twenty years.

I can remember the sign, a small list of guidelines, that hung on the wall to the right of the Shomen at the Evergreen Learning Center in Olympia Washington that read;

-Keep One Point.
-Keep Weight Under Side.
-Extend Ki.

Yes, it sounds like some mystical mumbo-jumbo and one might just as easily dismiss them outright as such, but what do these things truly mean and did they sink in then, or now? Obviously there was some sort of lasting impression.

There are many aspects to Budo and many ways to apply what is learned that have tremendous value and, yet, have nothing at all to do with 'fighting,' 'combatives,' or 'self-defense,' but remain every bit as practical in every sense of the word.
Who cannot say that the application of 'Fudo Shin' or Immoveable Mind to day-to-day life is not just as important, if not more so, than these other aspects of training?
The ability to face down those things inside that might otherwise take charge and drag us down, working towards maintaining that 'One Pointedness' at all times, regardless of situation or circumstance? Keeping a cool, calm, and collected outlook in the face of extreme stress??
Not even certain that begins to scratch the surface, but it certainly is a start for a twenty five year Novice such as myself.
Budo is never short on beginnings as each step presents something old in a completely new light and nothing is ever really the same as it was before... Food for thought.

Opening The Gate.

Welcome to 'Keeping One Point,' the new direction of what was once known as 'The Dojo Floor' which is the result of several realizations after listening to an Interview with Shihan John Roseberry and thinking really deeply about the direction of my Practice and my life.
The answers, as always, are on the Dojo Floor, but here you will find reflections of that journey, renewed and re-awakened from the perspective of an eternal beginner.

There is quite a bit of soul-searching each of us should do, every single day is a test, and how we live and grow depends on how we take each step on the path before us.
Karate is certainly about more than just punching and kicking and in order to find the true Spirit of it we have to dig a little deeper into ourselves.

My Teacher Michael Dascenzo used to end his personal messages in a very specific way...

In Gassho,